Donington's happy return

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Its British GP dramas behind it, a revitalised Donington Park reopened for racing with the Masters series providing the action

Kevin Wheatcroft’s re-enaction of his much-missed father Tom’s re-opening of Donington Park, riding on the sidepod of Gunnar Nilsson’s JPS Lotus 77 (now owned by Nico Bindels), ended a year of despondency and decay at the hallowed circuit as Masters Historic Racing brought it back to life on September 3-5.

Fine racing, demos of Grand Prix cars spanning five decades and a Spitfire overhead during one of the Formula 1 races – reminding onlookers of the venue’s WWII contribution – showcased what remains one of Europe’s best drivers’ circuits. And the re-siting of its chicane – 100 metres earlier, to satisfy the MSA’s track licence criteria – has improved it!

Two dramatic GP Masters races brought two winners. Rob Austin, first time out in his Arrows A4, stormed from row four to Saturday victory as favourite Bill Coombs (Tyrrell 009) battled a gearbox problem. Adrian Newey (there racing his Ford GT40) suggested the solution and Coombs dominated race two. He left with a 113mph outright lap record as Austin found only fourth and fifth cogs operable. Steve Hartley (Arrows A6) was runner-up each day.

Abba Kogan’s magnificent Matra-Simca MS670s, piloted superbly by preparers Rob and Rick Hall, starred in the thin Interserie Revival/Proto ’70s events, while Ollie Bryant towered over World Sportscar Masters opposition in his Lola T70 Mk3B.

Prospects of a good race between Carlos Monteverde (Lola T70 Spyder) and Paul Radisich (McLaren M1C) in the earlier Sports Racing Masters set were derailed at the first turn when the Brazilian gyrated directly in the Kiwi’s path. As Radisich strove to avoid contact, Martin O’Connell (Chevron B8) cannoned him into the Lola. Alex Buncombe (GT40) missed the contretemps for a consummate win.

Two interesting races for saloon cars harked back to Donington’s first renaissance in 1977. Driving his glorious ex-works BMW CSL ‘Batmobile’, Alex Elliott lucked into Saturday’s win when leader Mark Wright’s wailing Ford Escort-BDG stuttered, out of fuel, with victory in sight. Wright made amends on Sunday, when Moscow-based Roger Wills – who contested 12 of the weekend’s 14 races in 10 different cars – brought his Schnitzer CSL in second from the tail of the big grid.

Two-hour Gentleman Drivers enduros ended both race days. Jon Minshaw judged his fuelling uncomfortably tight after a frenetic first-half scrap with Gary Pearson’s similar Jaguar E-type in the over three-litre race, but still beat the Bryant family’s AC Cobra and the brakeless TVR Griffith of Jon Shipman/Mark Hales home. Smaller-bore honours fell to Allen Tice/Chris Conoley (Marcos 1800GT).

Leo Voyazides won both Touring Car races, in Ford Lotus Cortina and Falcon Sprint respectively, while Ron Maydon triumphed in a Mini humdinger, resolved at the final corner.

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